X-men.

For over a decade now, comic book movies have been some of the highest grossing films to come out from Hollywood. What started out as a fad has become it’s own genre. Over the next  few months, I’m going to be delving into each movie individually to try and find out what it is that’s made them a mainstay in modern Hollywood. 

x-menTitle: X-MEN

Release Year: 2000

Director: Bryan Singer

Writer: David Hayter

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Halle Berry and Anna Paquin.

 

 

Two years after Blade had been a hit for New Line Cinema, X-men was released by 20th Century Fox. Unlike Blade, X-men were a pretty well known brand before they took off as a movie franchise. Marvel had had a lot of success with the X-men comics in the 90s thanks to a new number 1 issue by star creators Chris Clearmont and Jim Lee (the first issue sold millions of copies because it was part of a boom comics were going through in the 90s. This would later lead to the medium struggling and eventually lead Marvel to bankruptcy and selling off their properties to movie studios, which is why fans today constantly complain about Marvel studios not having the movie rights to Spider-man and the X-men), there was also the animated cartoon show, which, like a lot of Marvel stuff, is where I first remember discovering them. So the film itself wasn’t as much a risk for the studio like Blade was, but comic book movies could still go either way at the box office.

X-Men 1 coverThe X-men comic itself struggled to find an audience when it was first published in 1963. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the original lineup consisted of Cyclops, Beast, Ice-Man, Angel, Jean Grey (who was then known as Marvel Girl) and lead by Professor Xavier. Sales weren’t as high as Marvel would have liked, this could have been down to Lee and Kirby working on other Marvel titles at the time and not giving the X-men their all, since their run on the book isn’t as long as, say, their run on the Fantastic Four. In 1969, Roy Thomas and Neal Adams took over as creators on the book and introduced some new characters, but the book was cancelled around issue 66. So Marvel decided to relaunch the title, with a new line up and new creators, which helped give the title the boost it needed to make it one of Marvel Comics most successful franchises.

What also makes X-men brand as successful and good as it is, is that Mutants themselves are a metaphor for people who don’t feel like they belong in society. In both the comics and the films, mutants represent those people who are on the outside, and it’s a metaphor and theme that’s pretty much timeless. And it works across the board, from racism to bullying to sexual preference. Over the past 50 years, at one point or another, these have been addressed in the comics, and if there’s one thing that Hollywood loves – it’s a good metaphor that audiences can latch onto.

The theme of oppression is very apparent in X-men, as the main plot of the movie involves a plan by Magneto to turn the leaders of the world into Mutants. Magneto is the first character in the movie we’re introduced to, as the film opens in Poland 1944 – a Nazi Concentration Camp. We see a young Erik Lehnsherr be separated from his parents, but what we’re actually witnessing is his super villain origin. It’s what starts his hatred against human kind, made all the worse as he gets older by the way humans treat mutants. I think we start with Magneto so we can sympathise with him, and believe in his cause more. He’s not wrong in what he wants, which is equality for mutants, it’s his methods in gaining what he wants that makes him the villain. He’s willing to use a machine, which he knows will have bad effects and will lead to death, on humankind to turn them into mutants. I’m not sure I’d go as far to say he’s a political activist in the sense of someone like Martin Luther King, but there are certainly parallels there.

(Side note: we’ll see more of his backstory much later in X-men: First Class)

Going against the original lineup in the comics, the core team in the movie consists of Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, Jean Grey and Rogue. Lead, of course, by Professor Xavier. There are also other well known mutants in smaller roles, most notably Ice-Man, who will have more to do in future movies. There’s also cameos of Kitty Pryde and Pyro.

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The main focus of the movie, and nearly every X-men movie to come after it, is on Wolverine. This is for the simple fact that he’s the most popular character in the X-men franchise. Even though he wasn’t in the original lineup, since his debut in the mid-70s, he’s had several of his own on-going series, been in a multitude of different X-men titles, and more recently, he’s been a main character in The Avengers. We’re introduced to him at first as a cage fighter. He’s making use of his mutant ability to heal (and also his adamantium laced skeleton) to make a living, and because he’s a bit of a lost cause when we first meet him. It’s here he meets Rogue, who ran away from home after discovering her mutant power from her first kiss (she sent the guy into a coma for 3 weeks because her mutant ability is to drain a persons energy, or if they’re a mutant – their ability). When the pair are out on the road, they’re attacked by Sabertooth, who we later find out is part of Magnetos Evil Brotherhood of Mutants. They’re saved by Cyclops and Storm, which sends Wolverine and Rogue to Xaviers School for Gifted Youngsters, which brings all of our characters together.

x-men-eric-and-charlesWhat I like most about this film, and what I think helped it become as big and successful as it is, is it’s cast. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are perfectly casted in the roles of Professor Xavier and Magneto respectively. Two classically trained Shakespearian actors in two of the most iconic roles from comics. What’s also great about these two actors in these roles is that they’re actually best friends in real life. The relationship between Xavier and Magneto has been an important part of X-men since it first launched, and the fact that these guys are friends off the screen as well adds a whole extra layer of subtext to every scene they’re in. You can feel the history between them whenever they have scenes together. From the first time we see them together at the UN meeting, to the final scene of the film when they’re playing chess.

There’s also Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. He was originally the second choice for the role behind Dougary Scott, who passed on the role of Wolverine to star in Mission: Impossible II. It needs to be said: Hugh Jackman is great. He’s doesn’t always choose the best roles, but he always gives a performance his all. He’s also one of the few modern Hollywood actors who can sing and dance and be an action hero (and he manages to pull off the questionable hairstyle of Wolverine. See, this guy has talent!) I’ve always liked him as Wolverine. He gets both the toughness and soft side of the character right. And for all you ladies out there who like your eye candy – he spends a lot of time in this film without his shirt on.

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This film doesn’t waste any time in establishing the love triangle between Wolverine, Cyclops and Jean Grey, a love triangle that’s been an important part of X-men history. Cyclops is the clean cut, handsome frat boy, while Wolverine is rough, rugged hairy new guy. The banter between Wolverine and Cyclops (James Marsden) makes for some good comic relief in the film and helps add that extra tension to the team. They try not to make Jean Greys singular job being the object that these two guys have to fight over. She is given other stuff to do (like x-raying Wolverine in all the scenes that he’s shirtless in). She’s played pretty well by Famke Janssen, who plays her more like her early comic book character, were she’s still discovering some of her powers. She’s better than the other female member of the group, Storm, who literally has very little to do. This was before Halle Berry won her Oscar, so she wasn’t that big of a deal yet, but the character she’s playing is one of the first black female superheroes in comics. It was probably hard to give her anymore screen time, but she needs more to do. Her best scene is in the train station, when’s she’s being threatened by Sabertooth, and she straight up gives him a giant lightening bolt.

Several characters, most of which have good performances behind them, but what I noticed this time around watching is that we don’t get too into the origins. It’s probably because mutation is something you’re born with and develop around puberty, but the film doesn’t spend much time on how the characters got to this point. Wolverines is glimpsed briefly in flashbacks. Cyclops, Jean and Storm are introduced as the teachers of the school. It’s only in Rogue that we see an actual origin. But they’ll attempt origins later, and you’ll probably be wishing they’d never bothered in some cases.

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What stopped X-men from having too overly campy a look was the costumes. Gone are the colourful outfits comic book readers are used too. Instead, the film uses matching black lather jump suit costumes. They’re not that exciting as far as costumes go. The look of the film would later be replicated in the comics by artist Frank Quietly in New X-men. This is an early example of the movies having a knock on effect on the comics, something that would become more and more of a trend once Marvel began making their own movies.

 

The movie has aged pretty well. Their are effects there that look pretty dated, but they’re not overly done due to the modest budget the film had. They spent $70 million on making the movie. It would end up taking over $200 million at the box office, making it a smash hit. This is why X-men is often thought as as the beginning of the current trend in superhero movies. It had that appeal to both adults and younger audiences members which allowed it to take in a lot of money. It would also make Bryan Singer one of the hottest directors in Hollywood, and was the beginning of Hugh Jackman becoming a star (I wonder if Dougray Scott ever regrets not taking the role?).

Next time: I’ll be looking at Spider-man, which would end up being even bigger than X-men.

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Blade.

For over a decade now, comic book movies have been some of the highest grossing films to come out from Hollywood. What started out as a fad has become it’s own genre. Over the next  few months, I’m going to be delving into each movie individually to try and find out what it is that’s made them a mainstay in modern Hollywood. 

 

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Title: BLADE

Release Year: 1998

Director: Stephen Norrington

Writer: David S. Goyer

Starring: Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson, N’Bushe Wright and Donal Logue.

 

 

Blade always seemed like an interesting choice of character to turn into a movie. He made his debut in comics in the early 1970s, first appearing in The Tomb Of Dracula series by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan. At first, he was a supporting character, and was created to fight vampires in the Marvel universe. He has had several of his own titles over the years, but none of them lasted that long, and he never really broke out like other supporting characters. I, personally, have been reading comics pretty steadily since I was 8, and I’ve read my fair share of Marvel comics, and I can’t recall Blade appearing in any of them. Even recently, in all the big marvel events like Civil War and Secret Invasion, stories that happened after he broke out as a movie star and when he was a little more well known, he was never used. Almost to the point were it’s like comic book writers don’t know what to do with him.

spiderman_bladeMy first experience with the character that I remember, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, is the character turning up in the 90s Spider-man animated cartoon show. They did a vampire storyline were the vampires never bit anyone, instead they drained the plasma from their victims through their hands. This was because the cartoon couldn’t have blood sucking vampires, so it had to make do with plasma draining vampires (and because children know what plasma is, right?)

 

The film itself is also pretty significant because it’s one of the few R rated (or certificate 18, for English people) comic book/super hero movies. Movies like this aren’t usually made with that high of a rating because they need to be family friendly in order to make money. The majority of comic book movies are 12a (which is something I’m going to go into more when I write about Spider-man in a couple of weeks) in order for the studios to make back the money they spend on these things and turn a profit. But Blade got lucky, because it came out on the back of Batman & Robin, which was very much made to cater to the family friendly audience, and it ended up severely under performing at the box office (because, as we’re all well aware of – Batman & Robin is not a good movie).

Also, with Blade not exactly being a big household name, they had freedom to do pretty much whatever they wanted to do with the character and the film, which turned out to be a blood-filled action movie full of bad language. And what they did worked, because they spent $40 million making Blade, and it made over $100 million back at the box office and even went on to get two sequels and an unrelated TV series.

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Now, onto the movie itself. Blade is the story of a half human, half vampire who has all the strengths of being a vampire but none of the weaknesses. His mother is bitten by a vampire when she is still pregnant with him, and he is torn from her dying womb and adopted by Whistler, who decides to turn Blade into a vampire slayer. The films villain, Deacon Frost, wants to do away with mankind, and let vampires become the dominant species on the planet. In order to do that, he needs to unlock the secrets of an old vampire God La Magra. Blade must stop Frost before he can do this, and along the way he’s going to kill a lot of vampires, and make Donal Logue wish he’d have died in the first scene, because this dude goes through hell for Deacon Frosts cause.

I watched it again recently for the first time in years – and it holds up pretty well. Some of it is very dated to the late 90s, like the outfits and the underground club dance scene that opens the movie. But other parts hold up better, like Blades costume. He decides to go for the long leather coat and body armour look. He only works in black, and he still looks like a bad ass. I was also thinking that a lot of the costume design in this movie looks very inspired by The Matrix, but after some imdbing found out that The Matrix came a year later, so this is pre-matrix black leather.

Wesley Snipes is also pretty great in the lead role, and managed to help turn a supporting character from a comic into a movie star. They never give him much dialogue, the exposition is left to other characters, but in the action scenes he’s really solid.

blade

But even though this film isn’t as campy as other super hero movies, it’s still full of stuff that makes no sense. Like, for example, Whistler, who is Blades old and wise trainer, but still thinks it’s a great idea to smoke next to a fuel pump that’s in use (he smokes whilst filling up Blades motorcycle (I’m not making this up!). And then there’s Donal Logues character, who is Frosts main henchman. He is lit on fire right at the beginning of the film, has both of his hands chopped off and goes through a lot of rough stuff, He pretty much has the worst day you can have and still thinks he can take on Blade, before finally meeting his match against a zip-wire.

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And my favourite thing about this movie, which is another thing that I list under ‘making no sense’ is that, with the help of a little sun tan lotion, vampires can go out walking in the daytime. There’s a scene which is set in the middle of the day, were Frost is holding a little girl hostage. In a park. In the middle of the day. But he doesn’t burn up to a crisp because he has factor 50 on and he’s stood in the shade. So much for taking out the comic book campiness.

z0y2aZeqPIThe DVD also features an alternate ending. When Frost is possessed by the evilness of La Magra, he has one final confrontation with Blade. The ending that ended up in the final cut depicts Frost as being possessed by having extremely red blood shot eyes and looking very pissed off at everyone and everything, the alternate ending depicts Frost as a giant whirlwind of blood. They made the right choice in choosing their ending, because the whirlwind of blood would not have aged as well as the sword fight that’s in the film.

But the film is good in what it sets out to do – be a badass, vampire slaying movie. There’s plenty of it, the film rarely feels like it’s boring and dragging, which is also help by it’s running time being just under 2 hours.

So now a character that no one had heard of has become a huge commercial movie star, and Marvel have had their first taste at big screen success. But what came next was even bigger. Next time, I’ll be looking at Bryan Singers X-men.

Introduction.

Here it is: a blog.

A couple of friends have suggested that I should find some output for my interests, and starting a blog has been on my mind for a while, so I’ve decided to give it a try and see how it goes.

It looks very basic at the minute. I just wanted to get the thing set up to start with and get some content on here, and then I can start altering and obsessing over the appearance.

It’ll mostly be comic book, film and television related. When I’m not at work, I spend most of my time either reading or watching something, so this is my attempt at trying to turn it into something constructive.

I’ve been needing a ‘project’ of some kind for a while, pretty much since I graduated from University. They won’t be the most articulate write ups you’ll read online, especially at first, but they’ll be an open and honest opinion.

The first ‘column’ I’m going to be doing is a retrospective look at every comic book movie since Blade (and then onto X-men, and then Spider-man and so forth). The reason I’m starting with Blade and not an earlier comic book movie (like Superman: The Movie or Batman & Robin), is because I consider it the starting point for the current trend of Hollywood superhero/comic book movies. There’s more than 4 each year now, and they’re usually the top grossing film of their respective year of release (and some of them are actually pretty good). They’ll be reviews/semi-commentaries/as many bad snarky terrible jokes I can think of.

Also, some comic book movies (like Blade) I have not seen in a really long time, so it should be interesting.

There’ll also be posts on other stuff. I’m going to aim for 1 a week. Maybe a few more if I come up with a good idea.

So if I look back in a year from now and I have 52 posts about rubbish that no one has read, I’ll know I’ve done good.